Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Modesty and Mindblindness

A recent blog post by my sister she mentions her natural modesty. It’s made me think of my experience with this. Or rather my non-experience since I don’t really have natural modesty. I’ve got pictures of my wrapping paper clothing stage where I must have been about 6 or 7 and I clearly haven't absorbed which are the critical areas that clothes are supposed to cover. And while some modesty rules got drummed into my head growing up, a few seem to have escaped my attention into adulthood. It was my husband who introduced me to the idea of checking that the neighbors don’t have an unobstructed view through an uncurtained window before changing in front of it.
photo by Marc Falardeau
This is not to say I had a preference for displaying skin. In fact I remember a time as a teenager when I was intrigued by the idea of full face veils and chadors. (In those pre 9/11 days I saw any symbolism as primarily complementarian rather than specifically Islamic.) When I consider things with my reason I definitely don’t have a preference for letting others see my skin and definitely a preference for not using clothing to signal openness, approachableness, or flirtatiousness and the like.
 But you have to be aware of that on going conversation to experience your clothing as communication with another at any particular moment. For me communication is always staticy and intermittent. It’s not something the I expect to happen every time I see someone at a distance or pass someone on the street. Yes, intellectually I’m aware of the possibility of information gathering, but I don’t have that sense of minds in mutual awareness of each other. What other people think does not generally overlap with what my own thoughts and don’t impinge on my feelings outside of my conscious effort for them to do so.
           This mindblindness, as far as automatic perception goes, can be very inconvenient at times when it takes me several extra second at the beginning of conversations to sharpen my attention and sync up to another person’s viewpoint. But it does have its advantages. It may take me awhile to figure out what cloths communicate, but I don’t have involuntary embarrassment about my clothing. If I realize the my shirt has a stain on it or that I’m wearing white sox with an otherwise all black outfit, I can decide to watch out for that the next time I dress and then dismiss the matter from my mind. So for me modesty is not body consciousness but a set of rules that I’ve managed to figure out.

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